I have just started the annual ritual of collecting all the fallen leaves in my yard. Soon they will be carted off by a giant, smoke belching truck to a compost pile somewhere in the wilds of Ramsey County, where the leaves will be allowed to rot, much in the same way they are already decomposing on what we may laughingly call my ‘lawn’.
In an age when jobs of all kinds are routinely discarded, re-assigned or left undone, I’m not sure why I still have this task. Can’t it be outsourced or digitized? Isn’t there a highly educated person in Bangalore who can collect my leaves twice as fast as I can by using an app of some kind? Why do the only jobs that remain seem utterly meaningless?
Still, I rake.
It’s not like I’m actually clearing the yard, I’m just putting the leaves on notice that someone is watching and a token effort will be made. I don’t pretend to have enough energy or interest to get every last square centimeter of leafage into the barrel, unlike my neighbor down the street who has apparently gone over his lawn with a vacuum and a pressure washer. It’s that clean. I suppose the fall chores are, for some, a welcome chance to be busy.
For the rest of us, it feels like a made-up activity – something invented by the devil to see if we can be persuaded to fall into obsession, destroying ourselves in the process.
Hogarth has already documented this too-familiar sequence in “A Rake’s Progress”, whereby a young dandy named Tom Rakewell inherits his miserly father’s fortune and takes only 8 short steps to wind up in a madhouse called Bedlam – all the result of poor choice-making.
In Stravinsky’s operatic version of the same story, the moral is “The devil finds work for idle hands.” So it goes for the man too enthralled with the idea of a pristine yard to see how this compulsion destroys his soul. The story always ends in a topsy-turvy bedlam of leaves.
Staying focused only on the jobs that are truly important is a daunting challenge and a test of character.
How do you decide if something is truly worth doing?